We were driving from Larnaca Airport in Cyprus along the highway, which now skirts the British Military Base, Episkopi, when we saw the rainbow arching from the Troodos Mountains and plunging into the blue sea near Aphrodite’s Rock.
“Richard of York gained battles in vain”, commented my husband absently. “What on earth are you mumbling about?” I asked. He grinned: “Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet! That’s how I remember the colours of the rainbow. It’s how I learned them as a schoolboy.”
This encounter startled me thinking of colours and the travel memories we associate with them.
RED! The red and while flag of Bahrain was flying at the entrance to the souk, Bab Al Bahrain, when we made our first foray into this Aladdin’s Cave of Oriental Wares. We bought a rosewater sprinkler made of brass, which started a collection that now numbers some 30 pieces. The souk and Bahrain have changed over the years, but still delight the discerning visitor. There used to be a Syrian silversmith in the souk who made the most beautiful silver jewellery, and two antiques shops, exactly opposite each other, where we purchased an ancient gramophone record player and a carved camel.
We moved on to Dubai and again the flag of Dubai was red and the souk an invitation to the ladies to add to their gold collection and then sail away with their purchases across the Creek in an abra.
ORANGE! It’s not just the colour of oranges, but the scent of oranges mixed with leather, taht reminds me of our first overseas posting to Tripoli in Libya and the souk where we bought a once popular ‘camel chair’ and a red leather safari chair. The colour features prominently on the batik textile prints we bought on our first visit to Sri Lanka. And that evening, we watched the sunset over the Indian Ocean from the Mount Lavinia Hotel, once the British Governor’s Residence, outside Colombo... an orange ball of fire kissing the horizon, colouring the country’s colonial architecture.
YELLOW! Yellow reminds me of the wonderful sunflower field we walked through in Romania. And the absolutely gorgeous painting of lemons, which I acquired on my last visit to Cape Town, painted by a local artist, a very talented young lady. We were pleasantly surprised that it was safe to shop in that part of town, but the store did have a very solid gate in front of the shop door.
GREEN! Many years ago, we rented a Winnebago one summer in Wales and were driving through a very green valley, when we heard Tom Jones singing, The green, green grass of home. The whole family joined in song and we shall never forget that moment. Green was also the colour of the Saudi Arabian flag. I remember my pleasure of being given a large golden box on arriving in the Kingdom to join my husband, only to discover it contained an abaya, which I was requested to wear. It was a windy three days in Jeddah, after which I had the greatest admiration for the Saudi women, who can wear their abayas, go shopping, carry a handbag and still keep a grip on the children. I still have that abaya.
BLUE! Greece has two beautiful flags: one, a simple blue cross on a white background, the other with blue and white stripes. We saw them first on a visit to the island of Spetses, after a trip on a Russian-built hydrofoil from Piraeus. Spetses then had no vehicles on the island, only horse and carriages, so we did a lot of walking that holiday. The Greeks were very friendly and welcoming as well as intrigued by our three blonde children – this was well before the large influx of Scandinavians to the Greek islands.
In Colombo, we had a friend who promised to introduce us to a gem merchant who would give us a great price for exquisite blue sapphires – we bought them finally, and the quality was superb, but I am still not sure if they were a bargain.
INDIGO! I never know the difference between indigo and violet, though indigo has a special hue and I remember trying to work out the colour of a fine swatch of Thai silk in a Jim Thompson shop in Bangkok, around the corner from the Oriental Hotel. Even today, I am not sure that it suits me and I have stopped wearing the dress, but still recall the shop, because we bought two paintings of teapots, also coloured indigo, that we still cherish.
VIOLET! Violet flowers used to be prolific in the UK, but not any more. When I first arrived with my new husband in his native country, he took me looking for violets. We eventually found enough to make a small bouquet on the banks of the mighty Trent, which flows through Lincolnshire. Today, the only time I see violets is when offered them by gypsies in Covent Garden in London. But the moment you react, you’ve bought a bunch of them, so it is a shame that one tends to walk hurriedly past the flower seller...
What are your rainbow memories?
Speaking Out by Jonna Simon